6:37 | When helicopter pilot Tony Coalson was on the ground during the Battle of Dak To, he was astounded at the numbers of American dead. Some of the casualties were from a terrible friendly fire incident. He remembers watching a C-130 full of wounded men just barely survive takeoff. When he returned to his base, he had a solemn observation for his roommate. Part 2 of 2.
Keywords : Tony Coalson Vietnam helicopter pilot Dak To Hill 875 bodies odor smell Boeing CH-47 Chinook friendly fire McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II 500 lb bomb wounded Lockheed C-130 Hercules bulldozer Nha Trang Ron Gibbs
He'd gotten his private pilot's license through Army ROTC, but it was in helicopters that they wanted Tony Coalson to be trained. He wasn't real excited about that until he got in one. It was in training that a grim sense of humor began to form among the close knit pilots.
In flight school, every day was a new day, always a new procedure to learn. Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson remembers learning slope landings and connects that to the first time he actually used one in a combat situation. It was during the Tet Offensive, on the lawn of a beautiful resort hotel built by the French.
Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson felt lucky when he was placed in the 201st Aviation Company instead of being thrown into the replacement circuit. He was sent to Vietnam on a troop ship, a practice that was soon to be abandoned. The trip was uncomfortable, but very interesting.
The anxiety increased as the troop ship approached Vietnam. Once ashore, Tony Coalson was sure they would be ambushed at any minute. In reality, they were in a very safe part of the country. As the aviation company settled into their base at Nha Trang, they had no idea that they had drawn one of the best assignments they could get.
Tony Coalson's helicopter unit flew all of II Corps, a fourth of the entire country, unlike dedicated combat units, which only flew in their little slice of Vietnam. He recalls his first combat related mission, in which he delivered an assessment team right in the middle of one of the biggest battles of the war. Part 1 of 2.
The 201st Aviation Company had a wide variety of missions in Vietnam. Pilot Tony Coalson describes a particularly stressful flight to pick up a special forces team which had been overrun. He knew it was going to be dangerous when he saw the number of gunships that had been assembled. Part 1 of 2.
The helicopter came in fast, touched down for a moment, and the besieged special forces team ran for it. Pilot Tony Coalson remembers seeing a huge amount of enemy bodies in the concertina wire. On the way back, he asked them, what happened back there. "It was Custer's last stand." Part 2 of 2.
The Tet Offensive was the most singular event of the Vietnam War. For helicopter pilot Tony Coalson, it began as almost nothing, but he knew it was a big deal when they brought out the 50 cal machine gun at the base. Does anybody here know how to use this thing? Part 1 0f 3.
The men were sitting on a bunker, watching and listening to the chaos of Tet unfold around them. They were an aviation company in a rear area, but each man was issued a grenade, which caused quite a bit of reflection because they were not at all used to ground combat. Then, pilot Tony Coalson dropped his. Part 2 of 3.
It was an unlikely duel. A lone North Vietnamese with an AK-47 firing at an F-4 fighter jet coming around for pass after pass. Tony Coalson remembers watching that unfold at 3 AM, the first night of the Tet Offensive. What the news media did with the news of this widespread surprise attack altered the perception of the war back home. Part 3 of 3.
The Tet Offensive was only the introduction to Vietnam for helicopter pilot Tony Coalson. He still had eight months to go, but after that huge operation, it was much more routine. One thing he noticed was that the enemy persisted, even after massive amounts of American firepower was used.
Your year in Vietnam went by fast, if you made it through, says Tony Coalson. He did get one R&R in Hong Kong but the night before he was going to leave, something came up. It was another problem for which the solution was his helicopter.
Relatively speaking, Tony Coalson's aviation unit had good living conditions in Vietnam. He describes the ones that were worse and then moves on to the ones that were better. Way better.
It was a tremendous relief when his year was up and he came home. Helicopter pilot Tony Coalson still had six months to go on his commitment, so he became one of the men who could tell trainees, this is how it really is over there. He had not planned to return to Vietnam, but it happened with Air America.
His Army experience was very valuable to him, but it was with Air America that Tony Coalson came to understand what was really happening in Vietnam.
Mac McCahan felt like he was doing something great on his second tour in Vietnam. As he transferred control of facilities to the Vietnamese, each one meant that soldiers were going home. Then he stopped at the dispensary to find out why he was suddenly soaked in sweat. Part 1 of 3.
Mac McCahan lost two cousins in Vietnam, Lee and Gene McCahan. If that wasn't bad enough, his brother George McCahan died from leukemia due to contact with Agent Orange. His own luck stayed with him, though, and he kept missing enemy ambushes by thirty minutes.
Freddie Owens looks back at the devastation he faced at LZ Albany and balances that against the joy he feels when he sees the offspring and grandchildren of those who survived. These are feelings that he tried, and failed, to express in written form.
Freddie Owens reveals his most vivid memory of Vietnam, the desperate run of Capt. George Forrest right through the middle of an ambush. He also talks about the best and worst days of his tour.
The sign on the windowless building of the National Photographic Interpretation Center in Washington D.C. suggested academic research, but the drunks across the street in the liquor store knew what it really was. Inside, Al Lipphardt, was busy predicting the October War of 1973.
Barry Howard just missed an appointment to West Point, "Thank the Lord!" Instead he went to the Naval Academy where he got in trouble more than once with pal John McCain. Then it was on to pilot training in yet another branch, the Air Force.
Freddie Jones has maintained contact with his fellow veterans from Vietnam, sometimes talking them out from under the bed in the middle of the night. His own healing was incomplete when he saw the Twin Towers fall on 9-11 and that became a turning point for him.
They wouldn't tell Mac McCahan who the visitor was, but they told him how many voice circuits were required and that the restoration priority on those lines was "1b." That got his attention because that was the code for President of the United States.
George Forrest left home thinking his father had acquiesced to the white power structure in his home town. When he returned, though, he found out that what he'd done was just the opposite. Enjoying the ROTC element of his college experience, Forrest received a commission in the Army and had some interesting assignments before he joined a newly organized air assault division.
Before he shipped out for Vietnam, Army Air Traffic Controller Arthur Hurst studied the geography and landmarks of the country so he could get oriented more quickly. He was based mostly in the central highlands, and visited many of the restored French air fields. He recalls how some farmers would drop their hoes and rakes and pick up rifles and start firing.
Operation Kings started out badly when two young Marines suffered heat stroke and had to be evacuated. Then the three platoons were caught in an ambush by a larger enemy force. In the chaos, Lt. Frank Cox went to aid of his favorite corporal, whose life was saved by an unusual haversack load. Part 1 of 2.
Freddie Owens shares his experiences during the ill-fated march to Landing Zone Albany during the battle of the Ia Drang Valley. His company was attached to another unit and was bringing up the rear. He credits his company commander, George Forrest, with saving them after the column walked into an ambush.
Joe Galloway was right in the middle of the Ia Drang battle and witnessed the withering artillery and air power that felled so many thousands. Later, Galloway asked North Vietnam's General Giap what he thought about losing so many men. The answer surprised him.
Dennis Haines was assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam. The only brigade not attached to a division, the light infantry was so-named because they could move out on a mission at a moment’s notice. He describes the execution and fear of a frontal assault.
After being drafted in 1962, Tal Centers became an artillery surveyor, responsible for siting batteries and establishing ground coordinates. A three year posting to Cold War Europe gave way to the inevitable when he received orders for Vietnam.
Freddie Owens says they paid no attention to news from home while in the field in Vietnam. They were trying to survive a war and didn't need the distraction. He certainly paid attention when he got home and there was a mob outside the airport.
Richard Nixon gave them six weeks to get into Cambodia and get out. Greg Camp got there and then had to deal with an ad hoc company of cooks, clerks and malcontents he was given. As their deadline approached, he tried to help a West Point classmate who was nearby with his own company and a severely wounded soldier. His only hope was the Jungle Penetrator, a rescue rig that could be lowered from a helicopter.
The Battle of Ia Drang Valley had raged for hours when Henry Dunn's unit was moved in for support. They listened all night to the sound of the fight and then advanced the next morning. They immediately manned the perimeter and Dunn began his work as Forward Observer, calling in areas of concentration for artillery fire. Part 1 of 4.